I decided to read Wuthering Heights for the first time, with the determination to see it through no matter what. It is a punishing read, and really a horrible experience emotionally. But my goal in reading it was to understand why it’s a classic, and that did come to me by the end. It’s a book about evil, and a family bound together by cruel intimacies and domestic violence infecting multiple generations of the Earnshaw/Linton houses. The haunting that occurs is the echoing legacy of that harm. Love, in this novel’s context, is an obsessive, all-encompassing passion that easily trips over to rage–for these characters, they are one and the same. Tenderness and hurt occur in the same spaces, haunting the Heights with trauma.
Once There Were Wolves is a masterclass in narrative tension. Charlotte McConaghy weaves mysteries together like poetry, and pulls those threads tight. This book simply smolders. The characters are compelling, each dealing with legacies of violence in their own way. There are plenty of wolves to be seen, and they are described in a transfixing, soul-stopping way. The wolf has been seen throughout history as the beautiful horror that lurks in the woods, and the book lets that concept out to play. How do we reconcile these twin capacities: the one to awe and the one to kill? That question is for wolves, for love, for human progress, and it’s all here to consider.
Appleseed by Matt Bell is a staggering feat of storytelling woven from threads of the possible, the forgotten, the fierce, and the free. I love the exuberance and wondrous vision of Bell’s writing; he can make a colonial apple-planting faun make sense in the same book where a semi-bionic human remnant pilots something called a photovoltaic bubble across a far-future icescape.
Does that sound insane? That’s because it is. It is absolutely insane.
But the most insane thing about this book is its ability to sing all at once to every past, present, and future moment of the human relationship with our planet, this story we are all part of. Human beings have always and will always continue to worship, disrupt, invent, sabotage, and mythologize the earth that they call home. Bell explores these tendencies as a unified and recurring cycle of stories that reveals the best and worst of what we are, and what we could be.
Eerie, slippery, lush, and dark, the distinct stories in this collection are jointed together by their setting and recurring characters. Vadnais’ writing (by way of Strauss’ translation) does dreamlike horror very well, while imagining how the near-future world, rather than being humanity’s victim, may very well reckon with us. Fascinating stuff.
Sarah Perry’s sophomore novel may be a gothic tale about fear, but the writing itself is absolutely fearless. Uniting several different stories that cross time and place by cataloging them as proof in a surreal monster investigation, Perry dissects the idea of guilt in ways both sweeping and intimate. In a narrative style that pulls the reader (at times uncomfortably) close, the story allows us to discover and dread along with our protagonist. Unnerving, at times devastating, at times funny, and always honest, this is a modern, cursed gothic story told with a wildfire level of passion, even as it masquerades beneath British restraint.
Jac Jemc’s short story collection is just sensational. These stories are tied together by strokes of odd happenstance that whittle change into the lives of their characters. Surprising, uncanny, funny, and dark, these stories are all about people we recognize. Strange as they may be, we’ve all met them and we’ve all privately wondered, “What’s it like to be that person?” This book offers one set of answers, shining Jemc’s unique light on the human experience. Such talent!
Claire Vaye Watkins has established herself as a writer to watch with her novel debut Gold Fame Citrus. I read this book as extreme devastation was ravishing California with wildfire, which feels dangerously close to the future Watkins offers here–the novel is set in a California scorched by extreme drought, fire, and an encroaching sea of sand. The writing is extraordinarily bold, and I admired it for that–it’s very free and very incisive all at once, and there are so many scenes that are just razor sharp. The social criticism here is definitely on point, though it’s truly devoid of hope. The more imperiled the environment becomes in Gold Fame Citrus, the more morally bankrupt its people, the more willing to believe in lies to preserve their own sense of comfort. This book, at its most basic level–even for all of Watkins’ play–is terrifying.
This is my second read of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I first read it the year that it came out, just a few short years after 9/11. I remember being astounded by Foer’s work, and how it stumbled through the rubble of that tragedy and tried to tell the story of America. Returning to it now, it feels different, but still brilliant. I particularly noticed how deftly Foer layers the generational experiences of loss, of war, of fathers and sons, of wives and husbands–history repeats but never reverses. In this story, we learn along with the remarkable young protagonist that there are always new inventions of love and terror, regrets that frame our identities, and ways to hold what we have while it’s in front of us. It’s one of the most human books I’ve ever read.
Sharks in the Time of Saviors is steeped in place in the best kind of way. Kawai Strong Washburn’s jaw-dropping prose gives an intimate family portrait of a working-class family strung tensely between Hawaii and the mainland. Washburn blends Hawaiian mythology, tensions related to class and race, and the perennial struggle of finding how to belong in a family. The natural world is a character in and of itself that pulls on the characters’ destinies, making the novel immersively Hawaiian through and through. The multiple perspectives of the novel create a revolving door that provides different paths to understanding the sacred energy that permeates the modern setting of the book in surprising and irreversible ways.
This volume of short stories has been on my to-read list for over a year–I added it when a close friend of mine told me, in no uncertain terms, to read it. Since then, it’s been recommended several more times. Now that I’ve read it, I understand why. Gutsy and gutting, structurally fascinating, and observant about all the unspoken things just beyond the edge of comfortable, Carmen Maria Machado’s prose is here whether you like it or not. This is quite a book. It’s a master class in style and somehow remains literary and poignant while spinning off of 90’s kid horror Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark and including a sex scene on every other page. How does Machado do it? I have no idea, but I deeply enjoyed it.
Favorite Stories in this Collection: -The Husband Stitch -Real Women Have Bodies* -Eight Bites -Difficult at Parties